Ferry terminal closing delayed

BAR HARBOR — The town’s purchase of the ferry terminal property on Eden Street from the state was set to close Nov. 30. But that’s not going to happen.

Governor Paul LePage is refusing to sign off on the closing documents without a change in the wording. The town’s attorney recommends against accepting the change.

Town Manager Cornell Knight told the town council Tuesday that because the closing is with a state department, it must be signed by LePage. Following standard procedure, Knight said, the governor’s office hired outside counsel to prepare the closing documents.

Two weeks ago, Bar Harbor’s town attorney Edward Bearor was contacted by the governor’s special counsel, asking the town to agree to a change in wording.

According to Knight, the town must agree to add the words “including municipal zoning requirements in effect on the date of this conveyance” to the closing paperwork in order for the governor to agree to sign.

Bearor said he did not know why the governor’s lawyers would require this addition. He recommended the town not sign under those conditions. Knight agreed.

“We’re not exactly sure what impact that sentence will have in the future,” Knight said Wednesday morning. “But someday it could affect what the town wants to do.”

Shorefront property owners filed a lawsuit in 2017, seeking to undo the recent creation of a new Shoreland Maritime Activities District for the property. The plaintiffs argue that the zoning change negatively impacts their property values. The suit is still pending.

Last June, Bar Harbor voters authorized the purchase of the ferry terminal for $3.5 million, as a “no-strings-attached” option, rather than a $2 million option that came with restrictions on the future use of the property.

MDOT representatives had said that if the state sold the property at the lower price, the money the department had invested in the property would have to go to a “long-term transportation use.” However for the $3.5 million higher price, no restrictions would be needed.

Knight said the property could close any time that the town and state can come to an agreement, but the town will not sign with the current proposed change of terms. For that reason, the town has negotiated an extension through January. There is a chance the closing will be delayed until Governor-elect Janet Mills takes office.

The snag from Augusta came as a surprise since five years ago, LePage reportedly encouraged Canadian officials to approve the sale of the property to the state.

The delay in closing on the property also means a delay in entering into a lease agreement that would Bay Ferries to offer international ferry service to Canada beginning next year.

“We won’t be able to execute [the lease] until we own the property,” Knight said, noting that Bay Ferries is in discussions with the state to begin work on the ferry terminal before the lease with the town begins.

Bay Ferries is still working out the details with Customs and Border Protection on requirements for running an international ferry service from Bar Harbor. “Bay Ferries has not made a decision yet,” Knight said, about whether to sign the lease with Bar Harbor. “There are some issues they need to work through.”

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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